As I'm sure you all know by now, we'd be languishing a lot further away from the goal of human rejuvenation if not for Aubrey de Grey and the network of people within and without the research community who have joined in to help push longevity science towards respectability and plausibility. Today a great deal more funding is going towards lines of work that contribute materially to halting and reversing degenerative aging than was the case a decade ago. For that we can thank the efforts of de Grey, the Methuselah Foundation staff, the SENS Research Foundation staff, numerous allied researchers, and thousands of volunteers and donors. This work and support has helped create a great change in the research and funding environment, and made radical life extension something that is discussed seriously in far more communities.
Yet there is still a great deal of work to be done. The great change in society and attitudes towards aging has only just started; most people still accept aging and death as set in stone, and even oppose efforts to treat aging as the medical condition it is. The next stage ahead is one in which the average fellow in the street has the same perception of aging as he does of cancer, and supports efforts to do something about it just as strongly. Only then will truly massive funding for the defeat of aging arrive from the traditional sources. Until then, we continue to bootstrap support and funding, year by year.
Aubrey de Grey is a prolific speaker, and gives many presentations in any given year. I'm pointing out this recently uploaded video of a presentation given by de Grey last year because one of the slides caught my eye. It provides the following information on yearly budgets for research institutions:
Even though 90% of US deaths and at least 80% of US medical costs are caused by aging:
National Institutes of Health budget ($M): ~30,000
National Institute of Aging budget: ~1,000
Division of Aging Biology budget: ~150
Spent on translational research (max): ~10
SENS Research Foundation budget: ~5
There is something to think about. On the one hand this is a reminder of just how far removed funding priorities are from the sensible goal of dealing with aging. On the other hand, you can see that this is a field of research in which small foundations funded by philanthropy can make a large difference to the current rate of progress, given that very little funding goes to the most promising programs. When looking at these numbers it is also worth noting that public funds, for which it is comparatively easy to obtain good data, are thought to make up a little over a third of overall medical research. It is very unclear as to the breakdown of private medical research funding when it comes to work relevant to aging, however. Perhaps it is similar, perhaps not.
A true maverick, Aubrey de Grey challenges the most basic assumption underlying the human condition - that aging is inevitable. He argues instead that aging is a disease - one that can be cured if it's approached as "an engineering problem." His plan calls for identifying all the components that cause human tissue to age, and designing remedies for each of them - forestalling disease and eventually pushing back death.
He has developed a possibly comprehensive plan for such repair, termed Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), which breaks the aging problem down into seven major classes of damage and identifies detailed approaches to addressing each one. A key aspect of SENS is that it can potentially extend healthy lifespan without limit, even though these repair only needs to approach perfection rapidly enough to keep the overall level of damage below pathogenic levels. With his astonishingly long beard, wiry frame and penchant for bold and cutting proclamations, de Grey is a magnet for controversy. A computer scientist, self-taught biogerontologist and researcher, he has co-authored journal articles with some of the most respected scientists in the field.